Bēma successfully opens “The Gates”

GatesBēma was delighted at the response to the reading of the play, The Gates are Closing at Congregation Emanu-El on Saturday, September 21. The reading was followed by Havdalah, and Sliḥot services. The audience of approximately fifty included members of the congregation familiar with Yom Kippur services and others who were intrigued by the subject.

The Gates are Closing was discovered by Bēma team member Annie Weeks, who was so taken by the poem “Home” in the new Lev Shalem Siddur (page 181) that she contacted Merle Feld, the author, to happily find out that as well as being a poet, Merle was also a playwright. Gates is a play that was written specifically to be read by members of a synagogue congregation prior to the High Holy Days. It has been performed since its 1986 première in New York in hundreds of congregations world-wide.

The Gates are Closing takes place during the evening of Yom Kippur, the morning, and the late afternoon of the next day. Through its ten characters, the piece speaks thoughtfully and eloquently to the various struggles that each one of us brings to the forefront of our minds on these days of awe. The voices of the characters are interspersed with highlights of the Yom Kippur service, including the sounding of a shofar at its end.

Members of the Jewish community who presented the reading were: Katya Delancey, Rick Kool, Rabbi Harry Brechner, Howard Herzog, Benjy de la Vega, Eva Stanger-Ross, Danielle Weisz, Barbara Pelman, Miriam Waldman and Aaron Severs. Each reader was outstanding. Direction was provided by Zelda Dean and stage management by Susan Holtz.

As well as the audience taking away insights from the experience, each reader did the same.

“A fine reading of a play that touches on so many human life experiences. The readers were very talented and their stories came alive with each one, humbling me to the scale of our vulnerabilities and struggles. No sugar coating, just real life at the gate.” —Nancy Issenman, audience member.

“This was my first time acting as a character, not writing about one. But I could feel Joan’s pain as my own, and all the others as well. Each story blended into the other. The monologues were powerful, and the voices together felt like a whole community searching for forgiveness, for wholeness.” —Barbara Pelman, reader.

“It was a privilege to be given this opportunity. The play challenged me to do my “heshbon nefesh” (internal soul accounting) in preparation for the Days of Awe. It also reminded me that we come together as a community of imperfect beings, each with our individual and collective issues. Somehow, during this High Holiday period, we manage to find some transformation and answers.” —Aaron Severs, reader.

Bēma initiates our Leil Sliḥot service with a reading of The Gates are Closing

The Gates are Closing Jewish 1000Saturday, September 21, 2019 7 pm — This year Congregation Emanu-El will introduce our Sliḥot prayers for the High Holy Days in an unusual way, a reading of the award-winning contemporary play, The Gates Are Closing. Beginning Saturday, September 21 at 7 pm preceding the traditional Sliḥot service, 10 members of the Jewish community will take the parts of a varied yet inspired minyan of Jews in the synagogue on Yom Kippur as they grapple with issues of identity, meaning, repentance and forgiveness.

This award-winning play had its first staged reading at the Jewish Repertory Theatre in New York in May 1986. Since then it has been presented in hundreds of synagogues and college campuses from Brooklyn to Beijing, including a signed performance by Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf in Arleta, California.

Over the years many rabbis and congregations have treasured the play including Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, who described it as “a drama of great religious insight and nuance, instigating probably the most thoughtfully lively High Holy Day preparation our congregation ever had.”

The playwright, Merle Feld, is a widely published poet whose work frequently appears in anthologies and prayer books including the new Conservative High Holy Day Maḥzor Lev Shalem, the Siddur Lev Shalem, and the Reform Movement Women’s Torah Commentary. She is also the author of a popular memoir in poetry and prose, A Spiritual Life: Exploring the Heart and Jewish Tradition (SUNY Press, revised 2007) and a recent book of her poems, Finding Words (URJ Press, 2011).

Feld is moved and delighted that The Gates are Closing, written early in her career, has retained its urgency and spiritual power for such a vast audience nationally and internationally. “It feels miraculous to me that every fall these characters come to life again—in Philadelphia and San Diego, Youngstown and Nashville, Virginia, Arizona, San Antonio, Australia, and London—and that these characters continue to provide a gateway for Jews across the denominations who are searching for meaning.”

Preparing for the High Holy Days

HIgh Holy Days

Note this is a date change! Wednesday September 13, at 7 pmPrepare our Hearts and Minds for the Days of Awe. The High Holy Days are fast approaching. Our Religious Services Committee has arranged two preparatory evenings – Wednesday, September 13, at 7 pm and Saturday, September 16, at 9 pm.

On Wednesday September 13, at 7 pm, we will Prepare our Hearts and Minds for the Days of Awe. Continue reading Preparing for the High Holy Days